Portraying extreme emotions in fiction
Stories are all about the people in them (just like real life) and so of course, the most important scenes of any story are the ones where the characters experience intense emotions. It's extra important to portray them accurately, and strike a balance that neither downplays the magnitude of their emotions nor comes off as melodramatic. Generally speaking the more emotional the characters are the harder a task you're giving yourself to write them well (since you have to write it without feeling what they are firsthand).
It's usualyly better to communicate the character's feelings through their thoughts that surround the emotion rather than directly using the word for the emotion. Example: instead of writing (assuming 1st person present) "I'm really mad at her", write, "What the hell! How could she do this and think it's okay?" Concrete thoughts like this make it far easier for a reader to imagine the character's feelings than just stating how the character feels. (This is an application of "show, don't tell".)
A related technique - these can and often should be combined - is to use the bodily reactions caused by many emotions. Mentioning how a character presses their eyes shut to begin crying or gets a pit in their stomach when they're afraid helps the audience to imagine the character's suffering.
Obviously, music plays a huge role in applicable media. A lot of this responsibility falls on the musician and not the writer, but there's still some decisions the writer can make.
- A lesson I learned from Doki Doki Literature Club: stop the music when the situation takes a sudden grave turn. Reading Yuri's second poem in Act 2 was terrifying, and this was why.
I think the reason this is so important is that it mirrors how *we* react. Most of us, if something like that happened while we were speaking, would trail off our voice and give a moment of silence.
Doki Doki Literature Club review
- Using dramatic or ominous music is really dangerous and needs to be done carefully, because it's one of the easiest ways to fall into melodrama. Dark Souls boss fights being the pinnacle example of course. Music (like the Taurus Demon track) that just screams at the player "It's a big monster! Be scared!" is not scary or dramatic. It's melodramatic. Especially since in practice the only thing the player is afraid of is being sent back to the bonfire and having to run a mile back to the arena before they're allowed to face the boss again. For this to work, the audience has to already be invested in the characters *and* they have to take the danger seriously even before you added the music. Doing this in a video game is extra questionable because the player knows there aren't any real consequences - even for the in-universe characters - if they die. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I can't think of a time I've seen this done and not thought "Ugh, would you just turn off the damn music so I can focus on the fight, your bullshit gameplay mechanics facilitate more frustration than fear". Heroic music is generally a better fit for games.
Dark Souls review
Taurus Demon track
One pitfall I want to mention briefly is that having your POV shout their friend's name in all caps upon seeing them die is not realistic or relatable. It's not how a real person would react - none that I know at least - and it shows no thought, nothing that helps us feel with them. It's just cliched.
How about a concrete example of a really good scene?
Doki Doki Literature Club is a masterpiece in this regard (and every other!). However this is a *huge* spoiler so I'm gonna put it after the bottom.
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MC's reaction to Sayori's death.
His first thought: "What the hell?" He starts with a general expression of shock before any thoughts about about the ramifications of what he's seeing. The line is repeated once.
Next he has thoughts like "Is this a nightmare? It... has to be". The denial phase. It's human nature to look for any way to deny reality when you see something you really don't want to be true, even if only for a few seconds. The writer drags this out a bit, with the next lines being "This isn't real", "There's no way this can be real", "Sayori wouldn't do this", etc. This seems to bolster the effect; we don't want to breeze through these thoughts too quickly. A real person would probably spend several seconds at this phase, so the writer does too, even though it only takes one or two lines to make the point.
Next, as MC accepts it as reality, the writer mentions in his thoughts, "I suppress the urge to vomit". This line is a great example of using bodily reactions.
MC's thoughts continue into the main phase of grief and guilt, but he doesn't just think "I feel sad" and expect the player to sympathize. He goes through "I could have prevented this if I just did (xyz)!", "Nothing in my life is worth more than hers... but I still couldn't do what she needed from me", and "I'll carry this guilt with me until I die". These are concrete thoughts that do a very good job of helping you imagine MC's pain.
Of course, a huge part of the magic of this scene was also the music it plays. That song captures MC's state of mind perfectly, and it's beautiful. The song is physically painful to listen to.